On Tuesday night I began to jot down a few notes about Mother’s Day. I didn’t intend to post them…until Wednesday afternoon. While eating lunch with several staff persons on Wednesday the senior pastor said to me, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you: You need to acknowledge the oldest and youngest mothers at the 9:00a worship service on Sunday.” Before he could get out another word I responded in exuberant and honest haste, “You can forget about that!” He laughed; I calmed down. “I knew that would get to you,” he joked. He was right. (So below are a few incomplete thoughts…!)
I grew up in a church with two Mother’s Day rituals: 1) the “oldest/youngest/most times a mother/most children present” mothers were awarded flowers, and 2) all willing and able men sang “Church in the Wildwood” during the special music moment. The service always had a certain innocent charm.
But something seemed amiss. You could see some women fidget in their seats. I always felt a strange twinge of uneasiness during the service.
I always wondered how the celebration of motherhood affected some in the pews:
– the woman who desperately wanted a child but could not conceive?
– the woman who lost a child during pregnancy or delivery?
– the son or daughter who was celebrating the first mother’s day without mom?
– the child whose mother abused or abandoned him or her?
– the person whose memory of “mom” is more painful than heartwarming?
For people who have been told Leave it to Beaver motherhood is the norm (we’re looking at you, Hallmark), I can only imagine that they are not looking for the church to reinforce that myth. How painful some silly celebration might be for those unable, though desperately wanting, to be a candidate. (Is it not God, the parent of all, whom worship is all about anyways?)
Is eliminating such moments from worship too pandering, too much trying to meet the needs of all? Perhaps. And it’s true that the Church must say something meaningful and compelling about parenthood and families. We should celebrate those who have nurtured and loved us. But the reality is that parenthood and families are not one-size-fits-all entities. Families are different, unique, and messy. Mothers – and those who wish to be – come from a variety of social locations. We must be aware that motherhood – or lack thereof – means different things to the women in the pews.
On Mother’s Day I like to think of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She carried Jesus for nine months in her womb. She was there when he was born…and when he died. I imagine she held him, cooed at him, and giggled with him. She taught him to talk and set the table. I like to think that she corrected and reprimanded him when necessary. She counseled; she loved; she nurtured.
When Jesus was young, Mary took him to the Temple where Simon told her that a “sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). Can you imagine living with those words echoing in your mind? Years earlier she told the angel that announced Jesus’ birth, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Of course, at that moment she was speaking of her conception by the Spirit, but what trust, what faith, what commitment. Think of the beauty of Mary’s openness to God to “let it be.” (This is not a fatalistic “let it be.” But rather, a trusting in the grace and goodness of God “let it be.”)
Very few words in Methodist literature are devoted to Mary. If she is mentioned at all it usually comes in the way of saying, “See Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed,’ which state that Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin. Perhaps Mother’s Day is a day to think of Mary in all of her fullness and beauty. To put aside differences in the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, and to ponder in our hearts her commitment, obedience, and trust. To be reminded of her openness to being a vessel for God’s glory. I suppose it is some folks’ Protestant desire to not be Catholic that leads them away from spending time with Mary. What a shame. Thinking of Mary more often and more intimately would do our souls good – our longing, fearful, and thirsty souls.